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Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul

June 23–September 20, 2009

Tepe Fullol and the Bronze Age

Afghanistan's natural resources—gold, copper, tin, lapis lazuli, garnet, and carnelian—drew settlers who brought farming to the fertile foothills of the Hindu Kush mountains more than six thousand years ago. By the early part of the Bronze Age (ca. 2200 B.C.), an urban culture had developed in northern Afghanistan with its own distinctive style of architecture. Bronze Age towns featured massive fortified buildings with towers constructed of unbaked bricks. This architectural tradition continued for centuries.

As this Bronze Age culture had no known writing, its original name is lost, but archaeologists call it the Oxus civilization, after the Oxus River (modern Amu Darya) that flows through the region. In 1966 farmers near the northern Afghan village of Fullol accidentally discovered a burial cache that contained the first evidence of the Oxus civilization in Afghanistan. The grave contained several bowls, including three on view in the exhibition, which are made of gold that probably came from the Oxus riverbed. Their designs include animal imagery—a boar and bearded bulls (the latter derived from distant Mesopotamia)—indicating that at this early date Afghanistan was already part of an extensive network of trade and cultural exchanges.

The grave goods from Tepe Fullol attest to the existence of elites whose wealth was the result of a very active role in the trade of precious materials, particularly lapis lazuli, that were mined in the nearby mountains of Badakhshan and exported to the major cities of Mesopotamia and further west to Syria and Egypt.